Anxiety Nausea: When Anxiety Twists Your Stomach in Knots

Key Takeaways:

  • Anxiety nausea results from real changes in your body’s stress response
  • Vomiting temporarily relieves without treating the root cause
  • Lifestyle measures and therapy address underlying anxiety
  • New medication and gut-directed treatments offer hope
  • You can retake control with consistent coping strategies

Have you ever felt nauseated before giving a big presentation or going on a first date? That swirling pit in your stomach and urge to vomit when you’re super anxious is all too common.

In Canada, anxiety disorders impact approximately 1.9 million adults, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. One of the most common physical symptoms experienced is gastrointestinal distress, including nausea and vomiting, as highlighted in a study published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

The brain-gut connection is genuine. Our mood and gut health impact each other. So when you experience anxiety, signals get sent to your digestive system as part of the fight-or-flight response. This can lead to common anxiety symptoms like:

  • Churning feeling in your stomach
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • A tight chest and shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea or constipation

For many folks, managing anxiety means coping with nausea regularly. But solutions are available to stop anxiety from hijacking your stomach and life!

A young woman standing outside her classroom, stress, anxiety nausea and holding her stomach - illustration style

What Causes Nausea and Vomiting with Anxiety?

To understand why anxiety churns up nausea and vomiting, you first have to understand the fight-or-flight response. This is your body’s natural reaction to perceived danger.

When you feel anxious, your brain sends emergency signals that your body responds to by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your breathing and heart rate speed up to get more oxygen to your brain and muscles. Your blood pressure rises. Your senses become extra alert.

This revs up your entire system to fight the threat or run away fast (hence fight-or-flight). Your digestive system also gets the signal that something dangerous is happening.

So, your gut reacts by slowing or stopping digestion and directing blood flow away from your intestinal area. The result? Nausea and stomach pain.

Common Causes of Anxiety NauseaTips for Managing Anxiety Nausea
– Fight-or-flight response– Deep breathing exercises
– Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline– Meditation
– Hyperactivity of the vagus nerve– Distraction techniques
– Sensitization of the brain-gut axis– Ginger, mint, chamomile tea
– Anxiety disorders like GAD, panic disorder– Small, frequent meals
– IBS or chronic GI upset– Staying hydrated
– Severe anxiety or panic attacks– OTC anti-nausea medication
– Anticipatory anxiety– Prescription anti-anxiety medication
– Medication side effects– Self-care basics like sleep and exercise

Why Anxiety Causes Nausea

  • Hormones released during stress impact gut motility and function
  • Blood moves away from the digestive system to feed fight-or-flight
  • The gut has lots of neurotransmitter receptors tied to mood
  • Subconscious emotional connections associate anxiety with nausea

Some people are more prone to nausea with anxiety due to having an anxiety disorder or gastrointestinal condition.

Anxiety Disorders That Commonly Cause Nausea

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – chronic, irrational worrisome thoughts
  • Panic disorder – unexpected panic attacks and intense anxiety episodes
  • Phobias – excessive fear around specific triggers like flying or heights
  • PTSD – anxiety after trauma that relives the traumatic experience
  • Social anxiety – extreme fear around social interactions and judgment

Those with anxiety disorders often deal with anxiety and nausea daily. Panic attacks can make you feel nauseous and vomit or dry heave.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another disorder that predisposes people to nausea and vomiting when anxious. That’s because IBS makes your gastrointestinal system extra sensitive.

When Does Anxiety Usually Cause Nausea vs. Vomiting?

Mild to moderate anxiety often manifests as:

  • Queasy stomach
  • Feeling like you might vomit
  • Loss of appetite
  • Avoiding food

Severe anxiety or full-blown panic attacks generally lead to:

  • Throwing up
  • Gagging
  • Dry heaving
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps

So, nausea is common with everyday anxiety. Vomiting typically only occurs in extreme anxiety.

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Does Throwing Up Actually Relieve Anxiety?

When you feel anxious enough to vomit, you might notice the nausea lifting once you purge your stomach.

So, does throwing up help relieve anxiety? Well, it can provide immediate relief at the moment. But it’s not treating the root cause of the anxiety.

Why Purging Can Feel Calming

  • It distracts from anxious thoughts and grounds you in the present
  • Relieves physical discomfort of nausea
  • It provides a sense of control over your body’s stress response
  • It makes your internal anxiety manifest physically

Seeing a tangible sign of your distress, like vomit, can help others realize you need support. Having people comfort you when you’re sick can ease anxiety.

You might also feel a temporary high from the endorphins released after vomiting. But this fades fast.

Dangers of Using Vomiting to Alleviate Anxiety

While purging might make you feel better for a short time, it comes with risks:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances from frequent vomiting
  • Tooth decay from repeated exposure to stomach acids
  • Tearing of the esophagus from chronic forceful vomiting
  • Anxiety escalated from a fear of nausea
  • Eating disorders like bulimia developing as a coping mechanism

Relying on throwing up for anxiety relief can also reinforce the mind-gut connection, making you more prone to nausea when anxious.

Healthy Ways to Calm Your Anxiety

If you regularly turn to purging to alleviate anxiety, it’s important to break that cycle. Work on treating the underlying anxiety with methods like:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to transform negative thought patterns
  • Deep breathing lowers stress hormones and slows a racing heart
  • Journaling to process emotions and clarify thinking
  • Exercise to relieve muscle tension and boost mood
  • Medication such as SSRIs to balance brain chemistry

Learning to manage anxiety in healthy ways prevents nausea from occurring in the first place.

How to Stop Throwing Up From Anxiety

Once anxiety-fueled nausea hits, it can seem inevitable that vomiting will follow. But you can try some techniques to calm your stomach and prevent throwing up.

Short-Term Relief for Anxiety Nausea

When you feel anxious and queasy, first focus on soothing your mind and body in the moment. This lowers stress hormones that irritate your gut. Try:

  • Deep breathing – Inhale slowly through your nose, drawing air deep into your belly. Exhale gently through pursed lips. Repeat for several minutes.
  • Mindfulness – Observe how your body feels without judgment. Scan for tension and consciously relax each muscle group.
  • Distraction – Shift your focus by calling a friend, watching funny videos, listening to upbeat music, or working on a hobby.
  • Ginger – Sip ginger tea or chew raw ginger to settle your stomach. Ginger contains anti-nausea compounds.
  • Small meals – Stick to bland, easy-to-digest foods. Greasy or spicy foods can further upset your stomach.
  • Hydration – Small sips of water or electrolyte drinks can ease nausea and prevent dehydration.
  • Medication – Over-the-counter anti-nausea meds like Pepto-Bismol can relieve symptoms. Ask your doctor about prescription anti-anxiety or anti-nausea medication.
  • Rest – Lie down in a quiet space until your nausea passes. Closing your eyes might also help.
  • Acupressure – Press firmly on the inside of your wrist 3 finger widths below the crease. This activates a nausea-relief point.

Living With Anxiety and Nausea: Coping Strategies

If you experience chronic anxiety and nausea, some self-care strategies can help you better cope day-to-day.

Track Your Symptoms

Keep a daily log noting:

  • Situations that seem to spur anxiety
  • Any nausea or vomiting episodes
  • Thoughts, physical sensations, and behaviours during these times
  • Factors that help minimize your symptoms

Look for patterns so you can pinpoint triggers and effective coping mechanisms.

Build Your Anxiety First Aid Toolkit

Come up with a plan for anxiety flare-ups:

  • Deep breathing – Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts
  • Mindful movement – Try light yoga or walking to calm the mind and body
  • Distraction – Call a friend, watch a funny show, work on a hobby
  • Self-talk – Replace alarmist thoughts with reasonable perspectives
  • Fidget tools – Stress balls, worry stones, clay, or fidget spinners can redirect nervous energy
  • Time-outs – Step away from a stressful situation temporarily to re-center

Having go-to coping skills ready can help avert a spiral into nausea.

Seek Professional Support

Don’t struggle alone. A therapist can help you:

  • Uncover and reframe thought patterns exacerbating anxiety
  • Practice confronting specific anxiety triggers
  • Establish healthy coping rituals
  • Consider anti-anxiety medication if appropriate

A dietitian can help you pinpoint dietary changes to support gut and brain health.

Make Time for Self-Care

  • Eat regularly – Don’t skip meals, which can worsen anxiety
  • Stay hydrated – Dehydration amplifies anxiety and nausea
  • Exercise – Boost feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters
  • Sleep – Get 7-9 hours nightly for emotional regulation
  • Have fun – Make time for hobbies you enjoy to lower stress
  • Connect – Spend time with supportive friends and family

Caring for your overall well-being helps minimize anxiety spikes and subsequent nausea.

When To See a Doctor About Anxiety and Nausea

While occasional anxiety and nausea may not require professional help, speak to your doctor if you experience:

  • Nausea or vomiting daily that disrupts your life
  • Inability to keep food down for over 2 days
  • Signs of dehydration – dizziness, rapid heart rate, dark urine
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping due to nausea
  • The need to take OTC nausea medication frequently
  • Worsening anxiety alongside nausea
  • Suicidal thoughts

Seeking emergency care is crucial if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Fainting spells

These could indicate heart, lung, or gastrointestinal complications requiring rapid treatment.

Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety meds or gut-directed treatments for chronic anxiety with nausea. A referral to a therapist can also help you get to the root of your anxiety issues.

With professional support, you don’t have to face debilitating anxiety and nausea disrupting your life. There are solutions to get you feeling better.

The Future Looks Bright: Treatments on the Horizon

Exciting advances in research could soon unlock better treatment options for anxiety-related nausea.

  • Neurofeedback uses EEG sensors that allow you to visualize your brain activity in real-time and train yourself to regulate it through mindfulness techniques. Early studies show neurofeedback can reduce anxiety.
  • Psychobiotics are probiotics specially selected for psychological benefits, including lowering anxiety and improving gut-brain communication. Psychobiotic supplements may soon be tailored to individual needs.
  • GI-directed hypnotherapy uses guided imagery and relaxation techniques focused on soothing gastrointestinal distress. Clinical trials demonstrate it can effectively reduce IBS symptoms like abdominal pain.
  • Anti-nausea drugs like olanzapine and aprepitant are being studied for anxiety-related nausea relief. These medications specifically block neurotransmitters that provoke vomiting.
  • Anxiolytic medications targeting new neurotransmitters and brain pathways could provide fresh alternatives to traditional anti-anxiety meds like SSRIs.
  • Gut microbiome research continues to uncover new links between gut bacteria makeup and brain function, which opens doors for novel probiotic and dietary therapies.

Though anxiety and nausea can feel unbearable today, take comfort in knowing researchers are steadily making advances to improve treatment options. There is hope ahead!

Anxiety, Nausea, and Mental Health

Experiencing ongoing nausea and chronic anxiety puts you at higher risk for mental health challenges like depression.

This is because anxiety and nausea can get caught in a vicious cycle difficult to break without professional support.

The Anxiety and Nausea Loop

  • Anxiety causes nausea through the stress response
  • Nausea symptoms then spark more anxiety
  • You become anxious about feeling nauseated
  • This worsens nausea, creating a feedback loop

Both anxiety and nausea drain your mental energy and make it hard to function. The constant discomfort can wear you down emotionally.

Anxiety Worsening Depression

  • Chronic anxiety taxes your body and brain
  • Persistent fight-or-flight mode depletes mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin.
  • Avoiding nausea triggers leads to isolation
  • Focus narrows to anxiety symptoms instead of joy
  • You lose motivation for relationships, work, hobbies

Treating the Root Causes

To break this cycle, address the root causes of both your anxiety and nausea through:

  • Therapy to uncover thought patterns driving anxiety
  • Medication to stabilize brain chemistry vulnerabilities
  • Diet and lifestyle changes to improve gut health and microbiome
  • Stress management techniques to calm your body’s stress response
  • CBT and mindfulness for changing reaction to nausea
  • Support groups to reduce isolation and boost motivation

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Living with anxiety and nausea is challenging, but you don’t have to suffer through it alone or let it control your life.

The most important first step is understanding that anxiety-related nausea is real and stems from real physiological changes and signals in your body. Finding compassion for yourself is key.

While vomiting might temporarily relieve your anxiety, relying on purging comes with risks. Seek healthier, more sustainable ways to calm anxiety from the inside out.

Lifestyle measures like a gut-friendly diet, daily movement, quality sleep, and stress management benefit both body and mind. Supportive community and professional mental health support can help you get to the root of worry.

You may need to collaborate with doctors to find the proper gut-directed or anti-anxiety medication to relieve symptoms while doing more profound personal work in therapy to transform your mindset.

Most importantly, don’t give up hope. Even long-standing anxiety with nausea can be successfully treated through consistent effort and patience. There are always new therapies emerging as well.

The brain and gut are intrinsically linked, but you have more control over this connection than you realize. You can learn to short-circuit the stress response and not let anxiety rule your stomach.

With compassion for yourself and commitment to your health, you can kick anxiety to the curb and find lasting freedom from nausea!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The brain and gut are closely linked. When you feel anxious, stress hormones and signals to your digestive system can cause nausea and stomach upset.

Severe anxiety or panic attacks can make you vomit or dry heave. But it's more common for mild-moderate anxiety to cause nausea without throwing up.

Daily nausea and stomach upset are common for people with chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders. Managing your anxiety is key to reducing this.

If an anxiety trigger provokes intense, sustained distress, the resulting nausea can potentially persist for days until your body's stress response calms down.

Yes, untreated chronic anxiety, especially anxiety disorders like GAD, often causes functional dyspepsia, chronic nausea, and indigestion without an underlying GI condition.

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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